Sunday, October 12, 2008
Day One – Navplion
Our intentions of getting up bright and early were good – but the clock said 9:27 when we got up. We had docked in Nafplion, a resort and retirement town on the Agean Sea.
We bumped into Arlene and Paula, whom we met last night and decided we’d explore town together. Awesome decision! We took our first “tender” from the ship to the shore – they do use the lifeboats – they just call them something else when they’re not saving people.
We hired a taxi (most of which are little mercedes) and headed up to the Fort at the top of Nafplion. There are two ways to get to the fort – taxi or steps – all 999 of them. We opted for the taxi (seriously did you expect!). So this was our first real view of Greece – what an amazing site. SO beautiful.
The higher you walked up the more steps you found to go even higher. We actually did go to the very top. Each view was more breathtaking than the next. It was a bit on the windy side (check out the hair in the photos people) I was a little worried my mother was going to blow away! There’s just something about knowing that where you are standing was built long ago without any modern construction materials that is totally awe inspiring
You would think getting down would be the easy part – note to self, next time read the sign twice before making a decision! We went left instead of right, and came to stairs – ok no big surprise, there were lots of stairs even at the top, actually we couldnt really figure out why they called it the climb of 999 stairs until this part of our exploring. We started to descend – and kept going, and going – Somewhere about step 260+ we figured this was not the way back down to where our taxi driver was – we confirmed our error by asking people coming up – so around we turned and back up we went. No stairmaster is proper preparation for this – but getting back up to the top was a sense of accomplishment, not enough to go back and try it from the bottom mind you but accomplishment none the less.
So we had spent more time that our taxi driver anticipated – we figure he sold us to another taxi driver and we are forever grateful. our driver was…Adonis….seriously, I swear the guy’s name is Adonis – I know there were requests that I bring them home a greek god – I tried, but he likes his home here in Nafplion.
Next stop, back down to town and lunch. Talk about fresh fish – a lot of places had fresh fish on ice at the door so you could actually choose what you were eating. The Tziziki was amazing, and how could I not order a Greek Salad. You would think it’s the same as home – nope, totally more amazing.
Back to the ship… Tonights agenda – the captains cocktail party. Not to worry, we hadnt left port yet so it was ok for him to be there. I suppose its like saying hello to the airline captain when you get on a plane – just on a much bigger scale. The fun part was seeing a bunch of people we had met yesterday and talking about what we had done during the day and everyones experiences.
Off to dinner – ok the food is still amazing. They keep the portions small to encourage ordering lots of things to try…(like we need the encouragement). After dinner it was the 70’s musical review – where we got to see Lauren and Heather (whom we had dinner with last night) perform. The show was great and only for the sake of amusement, I will admit to having every single song they did on my ipod (I’d be embarrassed but I know many of you have a secret seventies music fetish too – I’m just brave enough to admit it)
Mom’s off to bed and I’ve come up to the computer cafe for a bit to update the blog and put up some photo (and be geek to a few people trying to get online here – no the geek part never goes on vacation).
For the record, no yarn shops as of yet.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Last night we really felt the wind and the water…first you wonder if you’ve had too much to drink, then you wonder if your heels are too high, then you figure out its just the ship moving. When I got back to the stateroom I immediately felt like I was 16 again trying to be as quiet as I could so as not to wake my mother up…some things never change, she was asleep with one eye open just like when I was a teenager. We just got a major case of the giggles – which only made my not being able to sleep because of my excitement even worse. Santorini has been on my list of place I want to see for a very long time.
We boarded our tender early and headed to Athinos port. There we got on a bus (Mercedes – now thats yet another new experience) and headed up to the village of Oia (pronounced eeeee-ahhh) This is not a drive for anyone afraid of heights – we will not be repeating the error of putting Mom next to the window any more during the day. Along the way you see all the layers of lava , lots of blacks and reds. Volcanic activity is what created santorini – and destroyed Atlantis – really awe inspiring. Oia was one photo opportunity after the next – its all of the images you think of when someone says Greek Islands. White buildings, blue domes, doors and windows of all shapes and colors – so amazing. You can also look down to the center of the Caldera – the water filled crater created by the volcano that all of the santorini islands surround. Originally houses were built into the cliffs – and that architecture is still here today. Totally breathtaking.
Next we wound are way up to the the highest peak of Santorini for a few more photos. Along or journey we were told that thyme and oregano grow in the wild here? It wasnt the season – but I can just imagine the scents. So I took photos while Mom waited safely in the bus (along with probably a third of the others in our group!). From up here you can see all of Santorini! Next we were onto the village of Pyrgos- the traditional village in Santorini. The streets here are like a labyrinth – designed to confuse the enemy. It was beautiful, and incredibly confusing. Even with the blue arrows painted on the stairs and paths it was easy to get turned around – but the views and the sights were just fantastic.
Our next stop was a greek food tasting – a little of everything and really delicious. Back down to the main village called Fira. The views of course were amazing, but the shops – ok I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many jewelry shops in one place. Each street turned into 2 or 3 others and one window was more sparkly than the next. What restraint I showed – which considering that some of these pieces were a good year’s tuition wasnt as hard as I’d like you to believe. But the designs were truly unique and it was fun to see much. The thing with all of the shops is that the way to actually get back down to the port of Fira is that you have to go past them all – smart dont you think?!
Now there are 3 ways to get down to the port. The first is to take a donkey. Cute donkeys – they passed by us…complete with that lovely eau de donkey scent. This was not really an option to us. That leaves the next option – walking down all the steps – nope, rule this out – the steps or path you go down is the same one that the donkeys use – I’ll leave the minefield reference to your imagination. Finally there is the cable car – so now we balance the donkey issue with the Sylvia fear of heights issue – round of applause for my mother who not only rode the cable car down, but actually didnt give it a second thought!
Back on our tender to the ship. Tonight we had an early dinner and will head to bed on the early side – jet lag and sleep deprivation win out. I think that this is a day that will speak louder in photos than my typed words – truly I am at a loss.
A few observations to share:
1. Greek and Geek are quite similar – perhaps my affinity and joy at being here has something to do with this?
2. I am quite certain that the stairmaster was invented by someone of Greek heritage – this place is ALL stairs and steps!
3. I have seen jewelry, pottery, glass, statuary, food items but NO YARN yet!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
We decided to walk the track on the top deck this morning as we pulled into Rhodes. A little cardio while you watch the ship come into port is much better than watching TV on the treadmill! It’s hard to describe looking out over what is so ancient and beautiful. Site of the colossus which is no longer here, from a distance it almost looks like a city built of sand castles. Rhodes is a city of two parts – old town and new town. The feel here is much more turkish – probably because it wasnt part of Greece until 1947.
We opted for a leisurely day of walking through Old Town. Still lots of jewelry stores but now there were lots more textiles. Beautiful linens, and woven fabrics (no yarn people – can you imagine!). We watched a woman as she was weaving a rug with this massive loom – the detail is beyond any level of patience I could imagine. Also lots of shops with greek flavors – spices and olive oil products. Mom’s note of the day – the olives here are smaller than at home – but tastier!
As we entered old town, we saw a sign for a synagogue – we wove through the streets and found Kahal Shalom, the oldest synagogue in Greece and the only remaining one on Rhodes used for services. We met Schmuel (Samuel) who told us that he had “much too many” generations in his family that passed along their heritage and history and that the Jews in Greece have had a difficult existence. He told us that in 1500 all Jews remaining were expelled if they didnt convert to Christianity. It wasnt until 1522 that the reigning empire invited Jews back to Rhodes to start a new community. At the beginning of the 20th century the jewish population grew and then got smaller and then continued to grow again until it reached 4500. In 1943 practically the entire jewish population were deported to Auschwitz – only 151 survived, one being Schmuel. Now there are only a handful of Jewish people living in Rhodes, but the synagogue is used for holidays. It was an amazing story. The floor was beautiful black and white mosaic, and there is the traditional balcony for women. In what used to be the womens prayer rooms next to the sanctuary, now there is a museum. Beautiful artifacts and even an ancient mikvah (ritual bath). The experience was overwhelming and really moving. History within ancient history.
We continued on through the winding streets – its so easy to get totally lost. Each street branches out into 3 or 4 more. Populated with lots of little cafes and restaurants – its a peaceful pace here.
Next we headed back to the ship for a little time just relaxing back by the pool – today was the first day that wasnt very windy and we really enjoyed a little time doing nothing but soaking up sun. This evening we went to a small get together hosted by Virtuoso. Virtuoso is a group of travel agents that really research and book excellent travel experiences. When we booked this we had no idea that our agent was part of this group, but we’ve discovered it definitely has had its advantages. Tonight we met the other people booked through virtuoso agents and learned about our excursion tomorrow. We’re going to Ephesus and will be able to explore an ongoing archeological dig. We were also told important details – like wear comfortable shoes, a hat, bring an umbrella for the sun and dont try and walk down and talk at the same time! Oh yes most important – make sure you visit the restrooms on the ship before you get on the buses because otherwise there would be a vacation experience that was not on the lovely memories list.
The nice thing about this cruise is that you can choose to sit with whomever you like. Last night we had dinner with Paula and Arlene – tonight we decided to be seated at a “sharing table” to meet some new people. We met two of the nicest couples – one from Kent England and the other from San Francisco. The conversation was flowing and lively (and some even a bit risque but I wont write about that and embarrass my mother). I was entertained all through dinner – not really a big deal until I tell you that everyone at the table was in the 70 plus age bracket except me. (Talk about feeling like a kid at the grownups table!)
We decided to make a quick stop in the casino after dinner and play a few slot machines for fun. Very big gambler I am – I budgeted a whopping 15.00. I’m pleased to report I walked out with 43.00 pretty good return on my investment especially in todays market – what can I say – I wanted a bit extra yarn money.
Another great day…
Tomorrow Kusadasi Turkey
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tonight, as I sit down to recall and blog the day I feel like I’ve been on a two day journey instead of one – it was packed with adventures. We pulled into Kusadasi Turkey early this morning. Looking out from our deck the architecture and the feeling ae different, beautiful like the Greek Islands we’ve been to, but you knew you werent in Greece.
We started out early this morning on our tour. Our guide’s name was Eti – and I dont think it would be possible to have had anyone better give us an introduction to Turkey. Eti is an art history professor – she shared her knowledge of archeology, religious history, mythology and the culture with us in this radiant fashion that immediately had me in love with this place.
Our first stop was Meyemana, the house of the Virgin Mary. It is believed that after the crucifixion, St. John took Mary to this house and it is from here that she ascended to heaven. Silence is requested as you pass through the home itself and by the beautiful altar and it is truly a moving experience. After you pass through Mary’s house, you come to a wall with several faucets that flow with water from the spring there that is believed to be holy and can provide healing etc. People were filling their water bottles, taking drinks etc. At the end of the wall you saw hundreds and hundreds of tissue paper with messages and wishes written on them. Like the Western Wall in Israel, people write their prayers, hopes and dreams and secure them to the wall. There was such peace in this place – it was a great way to start the day.
Our next stop was Ephesus, called the showpiece of Aegean Archeology. Ephesus used to be an important commercial port city about 2000 years ago. Now however it is not on the water at all – centuries of river silt being deposited one layer after the next combined with earthquakes buried the city structures. Only about 40 percent of the site has been unearthed at this point and its estimated that it will take centuries for the rest to be done. Ephesus was built both by the greeks and also the romans depending on the time. It was at times incredibly affluent, more than could be imagined, at other times the occupants were impoverished. Each civilization left its mark on this amazing place. We started at the top of Ephesus – everywhere you look there are artifacts, huge columns, and buildings. The road down the city was and still is all marble and the sidewalks mosaics. There is also a beautiful temple dedicated to Hadrian and a block down from that it was believed that there was a brothel. There were even public latrines – all out of stone. As we continued along we were lucky enough to be able to visit one of the ongoing excavations. This was believed to be the houses of the very wealthy – complete with frescoes, mosaic floors, room after room and multiple floors. It’s difficult to remember to close your jaw as you go through these rooms watching small pieces of marble be put back together to form walls and floors. To see what were opulent homes with kitchens and even indoor plumbing. Our tour continued down the marble streets down to the Library of Celsus – a gorgeous two stories of columns. Next onto the Theater which had capacity to seat 24,000 people. It’s totally impossible to describe the sheer awe of the entire site – especially when you consider that the two huge hills on each side are just covering up even more of the ancient city.
As if that wasnt enough, our Turkish experience continued with lunch at the Kismet hotel. We sampled local turkish dishes including eggplant, cracked bulgar, grape leaves and a lot of other things that I wish I knew the names of – each better than the next and leaving me with the intention of picking up a good Turkish cookbook before I go home. As part of our lunch we were treated to a performance of traditional Turkish dancers – what a great performance. I found it interesting that the roles of the men and women dancers differed with the women being more regal and subdued while the men were the entertainers. Seriously a huge treat.
Next stop one of the largest Turkish carpet manufactures where not only were we given an education in the different kinds of materials (cotton, wool and silk), we also learned about knot count and weaving types, but treated to turkish coffee as we learned. When we started we sat around this large room with a bare floor and by the time the presentation was over there must have been 30 carpets covering the floor and each others. Silk carpets actually change color depending on the direction you look at them in, and the Turkish tribal pattern carpets have striking similarities to some Native American tribes.
You’d think by that point we would be falling over – we pretty much were, but our tour was over so we now had our first opportunity to hit the Kusadasi Bazaar. One street after another of beadwork and textures; silks and glass; leather in all incarnations. Every merchant talks to you trying to get you to come in and spend money. Going in to a shop and coming out with nothing could be a challenge for some. We practiced our bargaining skills a bit in anticipation for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I think it can get a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to know what you’ve seen, what is a good price, where you’ve been – but its just so much fun! So – was there yarn you ask? Well the answer is no – Eti told me that the yarn stores were really only in the very residential areas not for the tourists – we just didnt have the time to get there but she assured me that I would find yarn in Istanbul.
Back to the ship for a bit of a rest before heading off to Signatues for dinner. Signatures is the Corden Blue Restaurant on the ship. We had to make reservations when we got on board and its the kind of menu that you cant make any substitutions on. We were seated with a really nice couple that coincidentally we had sat across from on our tour earlier today. We had lots to talk about so dinner was fun. The food was beautifully presented and in true French tradition they even bring all the meals under silver domes and uncover the all at the same time. Yes I know – totally pretentious, but it was fun anyway.
Back to the room to collapse – another amazing day that is best seen through photos (which are all making their way up to flickr each day) We head back for our final day in Greece and then back to Turkey and shopping mecca.
Best comments today both from our guide Eti
– “in the spirit of Carpe Diem (Sieze the day), you never stand in the same river twice”…Ok so I take this as a good reminder to stay in the present, even when you are getting lost in things that are ancient!
– “If someone accepts a cup of coffee from their host in Turkey, in return they owe their host 40 years of friendship” (This is a lovely thought – although perhaps its a reminder to think twice about who you offer coffee to!!!)